AAC Bests and Worsts From Opening Weekend

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2014

“Bests and Worsts” is a new Monday feature where we will recap the best and worst from the previous week of college basketball in the AAC. 

For as long as I can remember, DC Sports Bog has been doing its “bests and worsts” piece as an easy and fun way to recap Redskins’ games. I’ve always really loved the recurring feature and think it is an excellent way to summarize, in detail, everything that happened on Sunday. And because I am nothing if not unoriginal, I’ve decided to misappropriate the idea and use it for what I expect to be a weekly recap of the week in AAC basketball. So now that I have properly cited my inspiration, let’s get started, because the opening weekend in the AAC was a lot of fun.

Best Way To Start A Post About Bests and Worsts: There are pencil mustaches and then there are true odes to facial hair like the immaculate ‘stache that South Florida coach Orlando Antigua rocked in this old Harlem Globetrotters photo that was unearthed this weekend. That thing is clean.

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This picture is great for a lot of reasons, we can’t stop staring at Orlando Antigua’s mustache.

Worst Way To Make A First Impression: Congratulations to all the Temple fans who purchased a ticket and willingly subjected themselves to the Owls’ 40-37 win against American – you are officially the country’s most loyal supporters. Now please, go home and take a bath or whatever will wash off the stink of that game. The Owls did win, so that’s nice, but they also had twice as many turnovers (15) as assists (7) and shot an offensive 22.9 percent from the field. Literally, people are offended by that shooting display. Forward Daniel Dingle played 38 minutes and made half of the six shots he took, good for 27 percent of the team’s made field goals.

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One on One: An AAC Preview With Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 6th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an AAC expert in Jason Smith (@TheCAJasonSmith), the Memphis Tigers beat reporter for The Commercial Appeal.

Rush the Court: Defending national champion Connecticut obviously lost a lot from last season’s team with dynamic guard Shabazz Napier now a member of the Miami Heat. Nevertheless, the Huskies are still expected to contend for the league title. What is it about Kevin Ollie’s squad that has the unit in position to contend in the first year of the post-Shabazz era?

Jason Smith: It starts with Ryan Boatright, who was a great complementary player to Shabazz Napier last season. They are expecting him to be a Shabazz-type as their go-to-guy this season. I am not sure if Boatright is a guy who can shoulder the entire load like Shabazz or like Kemba Walker did in 2011, but Connecticut does bring back some other pieces that should help with things. They have one of the best rim protectors in the country in Amida Brimah, the sophomore seven-footer. A lot of people are excited about Daniel Hamilton, the five-star freshman who was named conference Newcomer of the Year. People are expecting a lot from him. At this point last year, I do not think a lot of people thought Connecticut was a team that could win a national title and they obviously proved us all wrong. A lot of the credit has to go to Kevin Ollie, and with him back in the fold, Connecticut has to be a team that you should expect to compete for the league title.

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

RTC: SMU clearly took a hit when it lost blue-chip recruit Emmanuel Mudiay to eligibility issues. Despite this loss, the Mustangs figure to be a contender in the conference. With Keith Frazier, Nic Moore, and Markus Kennedy returning to the fold, what is the ceiling for SMU in year three of the Larry Brown era?

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AAC M5: 03.24.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on March 24th, 2014

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  1. For the second time in three NCAA Tournaments, in-state rivals Kentucky and Louisville will square off. This time, the setting will be Indianapolis in a regional semifinal and the match-up was almost inevitable, according to the Louisville Courier Journal. All of the angst from both fan bases about seedings that were too low can be thrown out the window — there are more important things to worry about. The writer says that this rivalry, which will pit the last two national champions against each other, is the best in college basketball right now. Considering the only other option is Duke and North Carolina, and that neither of them have reached the Final Four since Duke’s 2010 national title while one or both of the Commonwealth’s programs have played in the last three, it’s a fair point. This season’s game will be even more passionate and intense than the Final Four battle in 2012. Louisville, at the time making a surprise run to the Final Four, knew it had nothing to lose against the best team in the country. The game was more of a celebration of basketball in the Commonwealth. Not this time. Either team will view the season as a disappointment if its run ends Friday night.
  2. Louisville knows that it is in for an intense game on Friday night, but a meeting with No. 1 seed Wichita State may have been a better match-up for the Cardinals because of Kentucky’s size. The Wildcats muscled their way to a 73-66 win in the teams’ first meeting at Rupp Arena in December. Both teams, however, have changed significantly since then. Chane Behanan was still with the Cardinals, although it would prove to be his last game in cardinal red. Luke Hancock is now fully healthy and Chris Jones has adjusted to his role alongside Russ Smith in the backcourt. And although the Harrison twins had a strong game against Louisville in the first meeting, they haven’t played consistently well until the postseason.
  3. Shabazz Napier made sure Connecticut wasn’t going to lose on Saturday night against Villanova. The do-everything guard poured in 21 of his 25 points in the second half while battling a shin injury. The senior has seen a lot of things in his four-year career. He was a freshman on the national championship and Big East Tournament championship teams of 2011, and also worked through a 2013 season of no postseason hope for the Huskies. Now he’s got his team back in the Sweet Sixteen, playing in a familiar venue at Madison Square Garden with what should be a strong home crowd on hand. When many of Connecticut’s past greats were no doubt looking ahead to NBA stardom, Napier has played fully for the “UConn” on the front of his jersey. Other than the Louisville-Kentucky game, the best story of the Sweet Sixteen might be the senior guard’s refusal to let his team go home for good.
  4. A number of strong potential candidate names have surfaced for the South Florida head coaching job after Stan Heath was fired on Friday. One name at the top of the list is former UCLA coach Ben Howland (also reportedly interested in the Marquette job). Mississippi’s Andy Kennedy has also shown interest as did former Marquette coach Buzz Williams before opting to take the vacancy at Virginia Tech. Athletic Director Mark Harlan said the job has reached a desirable status because of a renovated Sun Dome, a new practice facility and the rising status of the American Athletic Conference. Two freshman big men, John Egbunu and Chris Perry, made the AAC All-Rookie Team, so there’s also some talent waiting in the wings.
  5. Even though it might be seen as the most successful Cincinnati team in 10 years, the Bearcats’ postseason finish will be a tough pill to swallow. Still, Mick Cronin said that he’s never had a team achieve their potential more than this group — they gave every ounce they could give. It was the fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament for Cincinnati and Cronin, but a fifth may prove to be difficult to achieve. The senior core of Sean Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles and Justin Jackson will all depart. No double-figure scorers return, although two starters, Shaquille Thomas and Ge’Lawn Guyn, are expected to. No matter the roster, though, do not count Cronin out of anything.
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AAC M5: 03.11.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 11th, 2014

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  1.  With the seeding for the AAC Tournament now set in stone and remarkably zero teams in the conference on the bubble, conversation has turned to who should win conference player of the year honors and unsurprisingly, coaches with players in contention began plugging their guys’ qualifications immediately. The race is actually incredibly tight this season with Louisville‘s Russ SmithCincinnati‘s Sean Kilpatrick, and Connecticut‘s Shabazz Napier all deserving candidates. Each of the trio is a potential All-American and even choosing the player who has “meant the most to his team” is difficult when forced to decide between the three. Smith plays for the best team and is probably the most efficient of the three on both ends of the floor. Napier is the heart and soul of his team, a fine two-way player in his own right, and an absolute must-watch player with the ball in his hands late in the game. But my pick for the honor is Kilpatrick, who has anchored the Bearcats’ offense with his best season as a collegiate on both ends of the floor. One could conceivably argue that Napier is more important to his team’s success than Kilpatrick, but the Huskies have other guards who could take his place. There is no one on the Bearcats’ roster who could replace Kilpatrick, especially on the offensive end, and Cincinnati would likely be unranked and borderline unwatchable offensively without him, which is why Kilpatrick deserves the award.
  2. Saying that the AAC “surpassed” expectations in its first season seems overly positive. The league certainly met expectations in its first season, but pointing to national rankings and win totals as proof of the AAC’s excellence is disingenuous. Yes, the top five teams in the league are all safely in the NCAA Tournament barring some sort of epic collapse or failure from the tournament committee, but the rest of the conference was awful, so Larry Brown‘s to trumpeting of the league’s depth is deserving of an eye-roll. The conference is not very deep at all and the contrast is stark when you look at conferences like the Big-12, the ACC, and the PAC-12. Those conferences have very few truly bad teams while the AAC has a handful of teams that have earned the “bottom-dwellers” moniker. This isn’t to say that the first season hasn’t been a success, but let’s just consider the source when we hear the coaches of SMU and Cincinnati sing its praises.
  3. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports is on the record as saying that Montrezl Harrell‘s recent stretch of dominance makes Louisville a legitimate Final Four contender and he is hardly alone in that analysis. The Cardinals have lost just one of their last 10 games and have recent blowout victories over UConn and SMU and a big reason why is because Harrell has been a force to be reckoned with. The breakout that everyone was expecting to happen earlier in the season has finally arrived as Harrell is averaging 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds over his past five games and rims are in perpetual danger of being ripped from the basket when he dunks. The experience and size of Stephan Van Treese is certainly a nice luxury for the Cardinals, but Harrell is the team’s only impact player on the interior and if he keeps playing like this, his impact could extend all the way into another Final Four.
  4. It started in 1999 when then-Cincinnati assistant coach Mick Cronin got the signature of highly-touted Bronx guard Kenny Satterfield and now recruiting the New York and New Jersey area has become a crucial part of the Bearcats’ recruiting strategy and their success too. The current team has four contributors from the New Jersey-New York area: Sean Kilpatrick, Jermaine LawrenceShaquille Thomas, and Jermaine Sanders and the team will add touted recruit Quadri Moore next year as well. The connection makes sense not only because Cincinnati is a former Big East team but also because New York City and New Jersey basketball has a reputation for being physical, intense, and tough — three qualities that have become staples of Cronin’s teams in Cincinnati. Kudos to Cronin for extending the school’s recruiting base and luring players who fit his mold to the Midwest, it has helped Cincinnati remain competitive long after Bob Huggins left but it has also helped this year’s club become one of the best in the history of the program.
  5. It is almost time for Louisville and college basketball fans to say goodbye to the mercurial Russ Smith. The senior gave us all a gift when he made the decision to return for his senior season and he made his extra year count as he has begun racking up first team All-American honors from numerous outlets and is an odds-on favorite to be named a first team All-American by the Associated Press as well. It’s hard to imagine Smith had much to improve on after a stellar junior campaign, but he came back as a better but similar version of his junior self. The nickname Russdiculous is one of the most well-known as well as deserved nicknames in college basketball and it is a shame to think that fans won’t get a chance to see Smith careen coast-to-coast for a layup or bury an ill-advised three-pointer early in the shot clock. Clearly it will be a shame for the program and coach Rick Pitino too as they move to the ACC next season, because the team’s guard play will take a major step back without the program’s best player.
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Big East M5: 03.04.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on March 4th, 2014

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  1. Xavier got a huge win on Saturday against Creighton, leading some pundits to say they were safely into the NCAA Tournament. Things were looking good until last night when they visited the Prudential Center to play Seton Hall. Within 10 minutes, Matt Stainbrook went down in a heap screaming and was  unable to return the rest of the game. Chris Mack did not know what the prognosis is for Stainbrook, telling the media, “I won’t know for sure until he sees our doctor. We’re hopeful that it’s maybe just an MCL strain.” That would be a crucial blow to the Musketeers as they were rising and were in the 7/8 seed range if they finished the year well. They struggled the rest of the night and fell to the Pirates. They host Villanova on Thursday to close the year before heading to New York. They will likely need to win at least one more game this year to be safe, but if Stainbrook misses the rest of the year, the team is going to struggle to adapt so quickly.
  2. Steve Lavin’s squad has been short-handed lately. Orlando Sanchez missed a game to be with his wife for the birth of their child two weeks ago and Chris Obekpa missed time at the end of February with an ankle injury. On Sunday the team was without freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan as he mourned the loss of his aunt. This is a crucial time for St. John’s as they sit as the third team out according to Joe Lunardi’s bracketology. They survived a scare from DePaul on Sunday and close the regular season against Marquette, on the Golden Eagles senior day. This team has had an epic turn around, but still has work to be done if they want to be dancing.
  3. Georgetown will break ground on construction for a new athletic facility this summer. The facility will be named after famed coach John Thompson Jr. and is scheduled to be completed in 2016, costing $60 million. Georgetown Athletic Director said in a statement, “We’re very excited to be able to have the opportunity to recognize the career of John Thompson Jr. in this way. Coach Thompson’s legacy as a leader, a teacher and a coach are unparalleled in college athletics. Having his name on this building is a fitting honor.” Hopefully this helps the coaching staff lure some big recruits and give the players more resources to develop.
  4. Two sixth-year seniors were in some great articles recently. Chris Otule, Marquette’s singing big man, talked to Eric Prisbell of USA Today about his long career, full of injuries and hardships. It has been well-publicized that Otule was born with glaucoma and has had to live with a prosthetic eye. He has played in three straight sweet sixteens with vision in only one eye, a feat most of us cannot even imagine. After coming to Marquette, he broke his right foot and the next year broke his left foot, missing both seasons. Two years ago as the Golden Eagles got out to a 10-0 start, Otule’s leg buckled at Madison Square Garden, leading to a torn ACL and another missed season. What separates him is his personality, leading to being awarded Marquette’s first lifetime achievement award, before he even left. Grant Gibbs is also in his sixth season and spoke with Sean Brennan. He transferred from Gonzaga after suffering a shoulder and knee injury in his first two years. Then he struggled with his knee as he waited to play for the Bluejays. He eventually got healthy and the rest is history as he has led the team alongside Doug McDermott. Both players struggled, but displayed great perseverance to continue their careers.
  5. Seton Hall senior Fuquan Edwin almost did not get to play in his final home game last night against Xavier after hurting his thumb last week. After sitting out the team’s last game, he was fortunately able to suit up and help lead the team to a nice upset. Brendan Prunty of The Star Ledger sat down with Edwin and talked to him about his journey to Seton Hall and his legacy. Edwin has some great quotes including speaking about his childhood, growing up in a rough neighborhood and deciding to go to Paterson Catholic to stay out of trouble and  staying with current Cincinnati player Shaquille Thomas. When talking about his legacy Edwin said, “I think my legacy is going hard out there, 100 percent. I think what I’ll be remembered for is playing hard. I didn’t think about that when I came here, but I came here and wanted to do something special.” Edwin hopes to make it onto an NBA roster after he finishes a great career in South Orange.
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Three Keys in Tonight’s Louisville vs. Cincinnati Game

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 30th, 2014

The conference’s biggest game to date is upon us as conference leader Cincinnati travels to the KFC Yum! Center to butt heads with conference favorite Louisville. The Bearcats have won 12 straight games and are undefeated in the conference entering tonight’s action. The Cardinals have a home loss to Memphis earlier this month that they can’t wash away but have won their last four games including an easy win on the road over Connecticut. The two teams are similar in that they both rely on their defense, both have potential All-American candidates spearheading their offense, and both have questions about whether or not they have the complementary pieces in place to make a deep run in March. Needless to say, tonight should be an exciting night for college basketball fans, especially those who are partial to the AAC. Let’s take a look at three keys to success for each team.

Cincinnati

Sean Kilpatrick Has Been Unstoppable Through 8 Games, But Red Flags Remain

Sean Kilpatrick could use some help offensively tonight

  1. Get production from Justin Jackson – The senior sprained his ankle and only played six minutes in Sunday’s win over Temple but the Bearcats’ defensive lynchpin was cleared to play as of this morning and that’s really good news because without him, Cincinnati would be facing a steep uphill battle. After consistency questions during the non-conference portion of the schedule, Jackson has been crucial to Cincinnati’s recent success, especially on the defensive end where his versatility and ability to play much larger than his listed height have plugged a major hole in the frontcourt. It is probably wishful thinking to expect Jackson to be 100 percent, but the team needs him to play well on both ends of the floor if they are going to compete with the deeper, more experienced, and more talented Cardinals.
  2. Don’t allow second-chance opportunities – The Bearcats are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country but ironically, they also struggle mightily to keep opponents off the offensive glass as well. In the team’s closer than expected win against lowly Temple, the Bearcats allowed the Owls — perhaps the conference’s worst rebounding team — to snatch 12 offensive rebounds and out-rebound them overall 32-31. They survived because they tightened up when they needed to and because Temple’s defense is terrible, but the Cardinals are a different animal. Louisville is 20th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage and they are a far more efficient offensive outfit, which means they will be able to do more with their second-chance opportunities than Temple was able to do. Jackson’s availability should help in this area, but the Bearcats will still be at a disadvantage in terms of size, so they will need to execute for 40 minutes on the boards.
  3. Someone not named Sean Kilpatrick needs to step up offensively – Short of dressing Kilpatrick up as teammate Jermaine Sanders, it will be tough for coach Mick Cronin to find a game plan that will consistently free Kilpatrick up offensively. Kilpatrick will get his looks and Cincinnati will make a concerted effort to get the ball in his hands, but Louisville isn’t stupid and they know if they can shut down Kilpatrick, their chances of winning will rise exponentially. Ideally the Bearcats would count on Jackson to shoulder some of the scoring load but with lingering questions about his health, Shaquille Thomas or Titus Rubles or Troy Caupain will need to step up and keep the Cardinals’ defense honest. Thomas’ athleticism presents intriguing matchup issues and he was great against the Owls but this is a much bigger game on the road and the redshirt sophomore will find the sledding much tougher this time around. The Bearcats don’t need a breakout offensive performance, but they do need someone or a combination of players to step up and give Kilpatrick some help.

Louisville

Luke Hancock (left) played his best game since the Final Four, but it wasn't enough for Louisville to beat Memphis. (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

Luke Hancock needs to have a big game tonight (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Get out to a quick start – The KFC Yum! Center will be a raucous environment tonight and the Bearcats simply do not have the firepower to come from behind against good teams, especially on the road. If the Cardinals can play within themselves to start the game, get easy buckets, and open up an early lead, it could be game over quickly. A fast start will give them momentum, it will get the noisy crowd involved, and it will force an offensively handicapped outfit to get out of their preferred pace of play and start pushing the tempo. Make a few early three-pointers, find easy buckets in transition, and force some turnovers and the Cardinals will be able to relax. But allow Cincinnati to hang around and folks could be in for a nail-biting finish.
  2. Luke Hancock needs to stay hot – The popular “What in the world has happened to Luke Hancock?” question has been asked less and less recently as the senior has scored in double-figures in the team’s last seven games, but now is not the time for him to rest on his laurels. The Bearcats are easily the best and most physical defensive team the Cardinals have played thus far and he will need to assert himself offensively if Louisville wants to take control of this game. He still hasn’t quite regained his shooting touch but if he can get to the free-throw line and even just keep the Bearcats’ defense honest from behind the three-point-arc he will free up the team’s guards to penetrate easier and give the team’s big men more room to operate on the low block.
  3. Steady play from whoever is handling the point guard duties – Regular starter Chris Jones will be in uniform tonight for the first time since injury his oblique in the team’s win over SMU, but he will be coming off the bench and freshman Terry Rozier will get to make his fourth straight start. Rozier has been steady in Jones’ absence, especially when it comes to taking care of the ball, and that will be especially important for the Cardinals tonight. The Bearcats’ offense uses the turnovers created by its defense to get easy baskets. Jones and Rozier don’t need to combine for 30 points and 22 assists tonight. They need to take care of the basketball, manage the offense, and prevent Cincinnati’s defense from wreaking havoc. If they can do that, Louisville should prevail.
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AAC M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 29th, 2014

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  1. When the Connecticut Huskies find themselves in trouble, they look to senior guard Shabazz Napier to bail them out. Tell us something we don’t know, right? Well, even in games where Napier appears to be struggling, such as the team’s last game at Rutgers, he almost always finds a way to put his team on his back. He scored 20 second half points in the 82-71 victory. Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said Napier is a unique star because he’s so unselfish and is a great passer while still being an assassin from the outside. Napier’s coach, Kevin Ollie, said he doesn’t get discouraged and guys know when to get him the ball so he can take over. His teammates also know to be prepared to knock down an open shot, because Napier will find them.
  2. Everyone knew Memphis would have a good, if not great, backcourt coming into the 2013-14 season, but it’s the play of forward Shaq Goodwin that has turned heads so far. Goodwin nearly had a double-double in the first half Sunday against South Florida, scoring 8 points and pulling down 8 boards. Senior sharpshooter Geron Johnson said not only can the Tiger guards play with anyone in the country, but their big men, led by Goodwin, can too. The play of Goodwin and fellow big man Austin Nichols helped open up the outside shot for the guards, who buried 10 threes against the Bulls. No one in the country seems to have more fun on the court than the ever-smiling Atlanta native. Johnson said when Goodwin is leading the way playing the way he did Sunday, the Tigers are hard to beat.
  3. Much of the talk around Louisville this season centered on its strength of schedule, or lack thereof, after the Cardinals squandered their early chances at good wins against North Carolina and Kentucky. The schedule has received a boost lately, however minimal, by the good play of Cincinnati, Southern Methodist and Southern Miss. Louisville has already played seven teams in the top 51 of the RPI. All of these means quite a bit, according to a Louisville beat writer, as far as NCAA tournament seeding is concerned. Either way, a win against Cincinnati tomorrow night would represent the best win of the season to date, and would set Louisville up for making a run at a strong seed on Selection Sunday.
  4. One of Cincinnati’s key players, Justin Jackson, is day-to-day with an ankle injury. The senior forward’s injury came after just six minutes of action in the Bearcats’ victory at Temple Sunday. The injury could loom large with a road trip to Louisville up next for the conference leaders. Jackson is a defensive force on one of the best defensive teams in the country. He averages 3.5 blocks per game to go with his 11.6 points and 7.3 rebounds. Outside of Sean Kilpatrick, Jackson is the one player the Bearcats can not afford to lose.
  5. If Justin Jackson’s injury lingers, sophomore Shaquille Thomas will have to be the one to step up, just as he did in the victory against Temple. Thomas scored a career high 15 points (nine above his average) on 7-of-9 shooting and also pulled down four rebounds. He’ll have to find a way to stay out of foul trouble, however, if added minutes are coming his way. He fouled out with 1:15 remaining with the game still in the balance. Thomas said the difference was his aggressiveness on the offensive end, after Temple went to a box-and-one defense on Sean Kilpatrick.
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AAC M5: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 19th, 2013

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  1. We weren’t the only folks who thought Memphis‘ effort Tuesday night was commendable. The Tigers played very well in a one-possession loss to almost-full-strength Florida and came back from multiple large deficits to make a game of it. Rob Dauster is right; this loss shouldn’t feed in to the “Memphis can’t win the big game” narrative because the Tigers are much better and tougher and experienced than they have been in the past. Their recruiting class outside of Austin Nichols has done little this season, but that hasn’t been a big deal because all of Memphis’ veterans are playing so well. Joe Jackson was terrific and he has outplayed expectations slightly this year as the leader of Josh Pastner’s band. The Tigers showed a lot of moxie in fighting back against one of the most athletic teams in the country and they proved they are a legitimate Top 25 team along the way.
  2. UConn was anxious to get back to work last night against Stanford after 12 days off and maybe the extended break wasn’t a good thing as the Huskies couldn’t shoot the ball at all in the second half as the Cardinal held on late for a two-point win. UConn’s high-wire act was bound to bite them at some point and Stanford is a good team, but it was still disappointing considering the Huskies led by as much as 13 in the game. Shabazz Napier had his worst game of the season offensively and neither Omar Calhoun nor Ryan Boatright picked up any of the slack. The Huskies need to shoot well to win and that unpredictability is why many still don’t consider them a true national title contender despite the fact that they have still only one loss. You’ve got to give uneasy credit to whomever put together UConn’s schedule this season, because things don’t get any easier when the Huskies cross the country this weekend to play at Washington.
  3. I agree and disagree with what Kevin Ware had to say about the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry being “old and boring.” The larger point he is making is true. The rivalry is about the fans more than anything else, and the media obviously overhypes it. The fringe of both fan bases is the closest thing to SEC football lunacy in college basketball and I’m not sure there have been more “that’s sounds like it could be true” rumors that have passed through the ether of the message boards. I am not complaining, it’s a fantastic rivalry to write about and watch, but I’m not buying Ware’s “most players aren’t from here” remarks. The players may hail from the Southwest or the Northeast but I just can’t believe that this game doesn’t mean more to them than any other non-conference game, and nearly all conference games as well. I will buy that players don’t hate each other as individuals, but they are competitors and they will be more hyped to play the Wildcats than they were to play Missouri State, even if they couch their quotes in feigned indifference.
  4. When Richard Pitino took the job at Minnesota, you just knew that father and son were going to find a way to play each other. Well now it’s happened sooner than most expected as the two teams will open next season on a military base in Puerto Rico and the Pitino family television pieces are already writing themselves. The two have played each other before when Louisville thumped Florida International last season, but the younger Pitino should have considerably more talent at his disposal in Minneapolis next season. Yeah, it is a little bit cheesy and the novelty will wear off eventually, but I am all for a little father-son rivalry, so maybe I will be secretly pulling for the Golden Gophers.
  5. Cincinnati’s offense this season can be best summed up by coach Mick Cronin explaining that he thought it was better in the team’s 44-43 win Tuesday over Pittsburgh because they rebounded more of their missed shots. Offensive rebounds are nice and all, but the Bearcats aren’t going to win a lot of games by fiercely grabbing offensive rebounds only to be followed by another missed jump shot. They aren’t exactly an offensive machine, but Cronin also hinted that some of his inexperienced players like Jermaine Sanders and Shaquille Thomas need to become more confident shooters. Of course it would also be nice if senior leader Justin Jackson played with some consistency too.
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AAC M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 16th, 2013

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  1. While Xavier is talking about how its victory over Cincinnati in the Crosstown Classic is going to propel the Musketeers to success, the Bearcats are left picking up the pieces from what was an ugly blowout loss on Saturday. Mick Cronin’s bunch has now lost two games in row in their first two real tests of the season and they haven’t looked like much of a Tournament team in either game. The Musketeers controlled the game from the opening tip and they didn’t even need the services of their best player, Semaj Christon, who was hampered throughout the contest with foul trouble. Xavier is a legitimately excellent defensive team, but the Bearcats were woefully inept on offense and the sense is that this will be a theme throughout the season. The team shot 32 percent from the field and Sean Kilpatrick is the only player Cronin can put on the court with above-average offensive ability. Justin Jackson is an elite athlete but can hardly be considered a polished offensive product; Titus Rubles is a good player but may have even less offensive ability than Jackson; and Shaquille Thomas, Troy Caupain and Jermaine Lawrence have potential but remain too inconsistent to be counted on regularly. Their ordinarily staunch defense never fully showed up either as they forced 20 turnovers but let the Musketeers shoot the lights out on them from everywhere on the court. There is enough talent on the roster and a distinct lack thereof on many of the other teams in the conference so the Bearcats will win some games, but no one is going to take them seriously until they can consistently put the ball in the basket.
  2. I guess we can table some of that “Is Josh Pastner on the hot seat at Memphis?” talk for awhile, and not just because the Tigers have finally won a Top 25 game and have seemingly improved on the court. Rather, Pastner recently made a sizable financial contribution to the school’s athletic department to the tune of $250,000. Donations of that size aren’t unheard of in big-time collegiate athletics, but it’s usually rare to see a coach employed by a school plunking down a chunk of change that large. It is apparently the largest gift ever by a Memphis coach and although it is also a tax write-off, it’s still a generous move by Pastner. On the court Memphis started slowly but eventually put down a feisty Arkansas-Little Rock team and are headed into Tuesday’s big match-up with Florida in New York City with an opportunity to make another statement. At least Pastner made his donation before the game, a nice insurance policy in case his Tigers get blown out.
  3. While Rick Pitino was “Bringing Sexy Back” in a terrific photobomb at the recent Justin Timberlake concert in Louisville, his team took care of business in not-so-convincing fashion on the court this weekend by beating Western Kentucky. The Cardinals struggled to pull away in the first half and needed Tim Henderson’s three-point shooting to help jump start the offense in the second half. Louisville’s less competitive schedule means it is quite difficult to judge the Cardinals fairly or accurately on their body of work, but these knock-down drag-out battles with mediocre teams don’t give Louisville the look of a repeat national title contender. The backcourt is as deep and talented as any in the country, but it is the inconsistency from the team’s star forwards that are hurting them. Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell were supposed to be dominant forces up front this season, but Harrell needs a lot of refinement on the offensive end of the floor and Behanan has had plenty of ups and downs already. You imagine that Pitino will get most of that sorted out as the season continues, but some of these performances should be at least slightly worrisome.
  4. The Cardinals also found out on Saturday what life is like without floor general Chris Jones, who is dealing with a sprained wrist. His absence mattered little against a team in Western Kentucky without a lot of defensive ability, but it will matter more if Jones misses multiple games and it’s hard to believe his wrist will be 100 percent when Louisville squares off with Kentucky on December 28. That isn’t to say that he won’t play, because he almost certainly will. I’m just pointing out that sprained wrists don’t heal completely in two weeks and the Cards will need Jones’ production on both ends of the floor if they are going to beat the Wildcats.
  5. It has been an up-and-down season for Rutgers, but the biggest news surrounding the program came off the court when former Georgetown forward Greg Whittington committed to play for the Scarlet Knights. It’s been awhile since any of us has seen Whittington play in a meaningful basketball game because he was academically ineligible for a long stretch of last season and dealt with an ACL injury this summer, but when he did play, the forward averaged nearly a double-double and will be an excellent addition to Eddie Jordan’s frontcourt. Of course, it’s unclear when Whittington will be eligible and how much time he will have left in college basketball, but perhaps the most encouraging part of this story is that Whittington was reportedly getting interest from Memphis, proof positive that Jordan can recruit against the big boys.
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AAC Team Previews: Cincinnati Bearcats

Posted by CD Bradley on November 7th, 2013

Our team preview style has been heavily cribbed from the microsite writers over in the Pac-12. We love them and assume they would take our attempt at loose imitation as flattery and not plagiarism.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Strengths: Defense and athleticism. Under head coach Mick Cronin, Cincinnati has been a defensive force, finishing in the top 25 nationally the past three seasons in adjusted defense, according to KenPom.com. That shouldn’t change much this year, with a group of long, bouncy forwards – Justin Jackson, Titus Rubles and Shaquille Thomas should start, with freshman Jermaine Lawrence adding more of the same off the bench – and quick guards Sean Kilpatrick and Ge’Lawn Guyn. Toughness is never lacking in Cincinnati.

If Mick Cronin's Bearcats are going to make a fourth straight NCAA tournament, they might need to change their ways from years past.

If Mick Cronin’s Bearcats are going to make a fourth straight NCAA tournament, they might need to change their ways from years past.

Weaknesses: Offense. Just as the Bearcats have consistently troubled opponents’ offenses, they have struggled to score on the other end of the court. Cronin has said that he expects to pick up the pace this season – Cincinnati has been one of the top 200 most uptempo teams in the country just once in his tenure, finishing at #195 in 2010 – and they’ll need to. Those forwards whose length and quickness are a boon on the defensive end can’t shoot, so getting them out running the floor could help hide that weakness. A strong point guard would help the effort, but Cashmere Wright (by far their most efficient offensive player last year) is gone, and Guyn’s strength isn’t as a facilitator.

Schedule: The Bearcats have a road trip to the Pit in Albuquerque to face New Mexico on December 7, a crucial game where a win could do wonders for their NCAA Tournament resume. They face former Big East rival Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden 10 days later. Otherwise, their non-conference slate leaves a bit to be desired. Their conference schedule is back-loaded with a brutal triple-header – Louisville, at UConn, Memphis – in the last two weeks of the regular season.

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AAC M5: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 1st, 2013

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  1. In an annual milestone promising that tip off looms ever closer, ESPN released its full TV schedule for the 2013-2014 college basketball season on Thursday. More than 1,500 games will be shown across the ESPN family networks, including ESPN3, and more than 100 of them will feature teams from the American. Among the highlights are three GameDay sites featuring AAC teams: an opening day doubleheader with the morning show emanating from Temple-LaSalle in Philadelphia and the evening edition from Louisville at UConn on January 18, as well as a visit to Memphis when the Tigers host Gonzaga on Febuary 8. ESPN2 will have an AAC triple-header on New Year’s Eve, the first day of conference play: Louisville at UCF at 5 PM., Memphis at USF at 7 PM., and UConn at Houston at 9 PM.
  2. Jeff Borzello at CBSSports.com ranked the best backcourts in college basketball, and AAC teams dominated the list: Memphis was #1, Louisville was #2, and UConn was #4. It’s no coincidence that these three teams are the clear top echelon of the AAC in its first season. But the strength of the teams’ backcourts is in contrast to the issues each has up front. Memphis will rely on sophomore Shaq Goodwin, who showed flashes during an inconsistent freshman campaign, and freshman Austin Nichols. Both were highly touted recruits who the Tigers will need to live up to their billing. Louisville lost rim protector Gorgui Dieng to the NBA and Chane Behanan to his bad habits, at least temporarily. And UConn’s frontcourt woes are well documented; it was one of the nation’s worst rebounding teams a year ago, a problem which may well persist. Their great backcourts make it easier to paper over weaker frontcourts, but each will need their big men to step up to reach their goals this year.
  3. One of the most important big men in the American this year promises to be Montrezl Harrell, who is taking on a leadership role in his sophomore season at Louisville. “He wouldn’t talk last year,” Rick Pitino joked to NBC Sports.”You thought he was just a shy kid from rural North Carolina, and now we can’t get him to shut up.” Pitino even named Harrell a co-captain, the first time he’s so honored a sophomore during his Louisville tenure. “I look around at these guys and they all really want to work and really get better,” Harrell told NBC Sports. “So looking at that and looking at myself and how I’m willing to do whatever role that Coach can think of, that’s kind of the overall feel for things. The way that Coach has a passion for the game, that’s something that really helped me out as a player.” Harrell showed flashes last season, particularly during a dominating performance in the Big East title game win over Syracuse and his frequently highlighted alley oop dunk in the national championship game. Harrell was a man among boys in Tuesday’s exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan, and will need to play up to his potential if the Cardinals are to achieve their lofty goals.
  4. Hall of Famer Larry Brown faces an interesting challenge in his second season at SMU: all his starters return, and he added several highly touted newcomers. Brown says he’s still note sure what the starting lineup will look like, but that it will probably include incumbents Shawn Williams and Nick Russell as well as juco transfer Yanick Moreira. “We do have a different set of circumstances than last year,” Brown told the Dallas Morning News. “Last year anybody could have walked in our gym and picked the starting lineup.You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist. You could watch for five minutes. You could even watch us eat.” Times are very different in Dallas this year. “The biggest challenge we have is getting a group of kids to give up their egos and do everything they can to make the team better. … Right now we have 13 guys who think they’re one and done.” Figuring out how to balance playing time this season will be the key factor in whether the Mustangs can fulfill the dark horse (see what I did there) potential some analysts see in them.
  5. Shaquille Thomas showed off some of the skills that excite Cincinnati fans about the youngster in the NCAA tournament in March, scoring 12 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) and grabbing four rebounds in a loss to Creighton. The nephew of former Villanova star Tim Thomas is hoping to build on that performance in his sophomore season as he moves into the starting lineup for Cincinnati. “Coming out of high school I was (considered) one of the best athletes in the country, so I knew coming in what I had to do,” Thomas told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s high standards, but I set high standards for myself to go out there and perform.” Coach Mick Cronin called Thomas a gifted athlete. “We need to let him get the ball to the paint and to the rim.”
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Season In Review: Cincinnati Bearcats

Posted by mlemaire on May 1st, 2013

Coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance last season, hopes were high for this season’s version of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Unfortunately, after a hot start in the non-conference portion of their schedule, some of their weaknesses were exposed in conference play and a clear inability to score consistently held the team back as it finished 22-12 and 9-9 in the Big East before losing in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament to Creighton. It was a relatively disappointing season after coach Mick Cronin had raised the bar in the 2011-12, but let’s dig a little deeper and see just how disappointing it really was.

Preseason Expectations

Both the conference coaches and the esteemed group at this microsite saw the Bearcats’ finish last season and promptly pegged Cincinnati to finish fourth in the conference this season. Mick Cronin’s career was starting to take off following an impressive run to the Sweet Sixteen, and heading into this season, he boasted one of the league’s most experienced and talented backcourts in senior Cashmere Wright and junior Sean Kilpatrick, and an influx of junior college talent and improving underclassmen were supposed to prove serviceable in the frontcourt following the departure of do-everything big man Yancy Gates.

Mick Cronin's Team Fell Well Short Of Expectations This Season

Mick Cronin’s Team Fell Well Short Of Expectations This Season

The Good

Although it didn’t look particularly exciting at the beginning of the season, whoever put together the Bearcats’ non-conference schedule this season might have legitimately influenced the program’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. The team finished the non-conference slate 12-1 with good wins over Oregon, Iowa State, and Alabama, and their only loss was a one-point defeat versus New Mexico. The Bearcats ended the season on the bubble and you better believe that two wins and a close road loss to good NCAA Tournament teams helped make a difference.  There is something to be said for how consistently good Mick Cronin-coached teams are defensively.

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